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Her desert knight(5)

By:Jennifer Lewis



"In love with love?" Celia laughed.

Sara wandered over and sat down next to Celia on one of the elegant  cushioned chaises that surrounded the pool. The shade of a nearby palm  tree kept the sun off her face as she settled in. "Who's in love?"

"Everyone's in love with Quasar. It's very trying for him."

Sara shrugged and pulled off her T-shirt to reveal a turquoise bikini. "Not me. I'm still in love with Elan."

Quasar draped his towel over the back of a chair and flexed his  shoulders until they cracked. "And so you should be. He's much more  reliable than me." His stolid, workaholic brother had hired Sara as his  secretary and was suitably appalled when he fell in love with her.

"Nor me. I still love Salim." Celia said it while looking at her  husband, his oldest brother, who, incongruously dressed in a dark gray  pinstripe suit, had just walked up to her and kissed her on the cheek.

Quasar watched in mock amazement. "We can tell. I never would have  thought I'd see the mighty Salim indulge in public displays of  affection."

"The right woman can transform any one of us. Most likely when we least  expect it." Salim spoke with the quiet assurance of a prophet, his arms  draped around his beautiful wife's neck. "Even you."

Quasar laughed. "Don't be so sure."

"He has a date this afternoon," Celia said into her husband's ear.

Salim straightened up. "Tell me she's kidding."

"It's nothing to worry about. We both spoke English so we struck up a conversation."

"Where?" Salim's dark, penetrating eyes narrowed. Quasar drew himself taller under their accusing stare.                       
       
           



       

"A local bookshop."

Salim stared at him while Elan jogged up, looking muscular and athletic  as usual. "Quasar is the only man I know who can go out to buy a book  and come back with a woman. Even in Oman."

"I hardly came back with her in my pocket. She was interesting, that's  all. I have no intention of indulging in anything but conversation with  her."

Elan laughed. "I'm sure you've said that before."

"Have a little faith in me." Quasar grabbed Kira, Salim and Celia's  oldest, around the waist and swung her up onto his shoulders. "Kira has  faith in me, don't you?"

"What's faith?" Kira lisped both words, looking confused.

"When you believe in something without having actual proof."

Kira stared at him for a moment. "Like a fairy."

"Yes. Like a fairy."

Kira pushed her lip out. "I don't believe in fairies."

Quasar couldn't help laughing as he set her down. "Thanks for nothing."

Salim crossed his arms, looking sensible and invincible as ever in his  suit. "Well said, Kira. An Al Mansur prefers some empirical evidence."  His stern features softened. "Would you like to come help Daddy in the  office? I have some papers that need coloring in."

"Yes please!"

Quasar stared after Salim and Kira, shaking his head, as his  über-serious older brother walked off, hand in hand with the little girl  he hadn't even known existed until she was two.

"I've never seen Salim so happy. Nor you, Elan."

"We've shared our secrets, brother. It's all about finding the right woman."

"And managing not to fire her or drive her away." Sara winked.

Quasar thought for a moment. "There's a theme here. You and Celia were  both working for my brothers. Maybe I need to hire someone," he teased.

Sara cocked her head. "And get her pregnant by mistake. Don't forget that happened to both of us, as well."

"At least that's one thing I can't be accused of."

"Yet," said Celia, smoothing sunblock onto her long legs with a wry  smile. "Be careful. Obviously Al Mansur men are very potent."

"Like I said, we're just going to talk. She's an Omani. There's no  question of us getting naked without elaborate negotiations involving  goats and camels."

"That's a relief, then." Celia leaned toward him and whispered. "Still, take a condom with you."

"Sister, you shock me."

She patted his arm. "Just speaking from experience."

* * *

Dani arrived at the fruit-and-vegetable market a full ten minutes  before noon. She didn't want to take a chance of getting held up and  missing their meeting. She busied herself looking over the stalls full  of fragrant limes, garlic and bright piles of carrots. Young children  darted around their mother's legs, making a game of tagging each other  with their blue plastic shopping bags. She was trying to look busy  testing the freshness of oranges at a citrus stall when something told  her to look up.

Her gaze fell on Quasar, striding along the dusty street, chin high,  gaze fixed intently on her. Dressed in white linen pants and shirt, he  looked as cool and fresh as a tall glass of water.

She braced herself, hoping he wouldn't draw attention to them by  calling out her name. She put down the orange and walked to meet him,  keeping her gaze averted.

Luckily he was discreet. "Good afternoon," he said quietly. Her eyes  wandered to his lips, and imagined them kissing her hello. Which  mercifully didn't happen.

"Good afternoon. Almost afternoon. We're both early." Her heart  fluttered with excitement, which was silly since she barely knew this  man. The sun had kissed his skin a shade darker since yesterday, making  his incongruous blue eyes shine even brighter. Even white teeth  glittered in his wolfish smile. He looked like trouble. If she had any  sense she'd make up an excuse and run for home right now.

But she didn't.

"My car is parked around the corner." He seemed as if he were about to  thread his arm through hers, or put his hand at her waist, but he  hesitated, aware of the conservative local customs. The unmade gesture  ratcheted up the tension between them. Her body hummed with both the  desire to be touched and the fear of it. She walked beside him  self-consciously as he led her to a silver Mercedes, already covered in a  fine film of inevitable dust, and opened the passenger door for her.  "I'm so glad you're coming out to the resort. I haven't been there since  my brother Salim's wedding."                       
       
           



       

"I bet it was spectacular."

"Oh, it was. Salim doesn't do anything by halves."

"I bet you don't, either." She snuck a glance at his bold profile as he pulled out onto the road.

"I do tend to throw myself into things."

"Until you grow bored with them." She regretted the words as soon as  she'd said them. It sounded like she was scolding him. "I'm sorry. I  shouldn't have said that."

"Except that you're right." He shone those fierce blue eyes on her. "I  have been accused of having a short attention span. I prefer to think  that there are just so many things to do that I can only devote so much  time to each one."

No doubt he felt the same way about women. He could never pursue a  proper relationship with her since she was a divorcée and wouldn't meet  his obviously demanding brothers' criteria for wife material. On the  other hand, he might have no qualms about having an affair with her. She  had to be careful to resist his charms.

They drove through a cultivated grove of date palms, then out of the  city into the desert. She snuck furtive glances at him while he drove,  taking in the sharp cut of his aristocratic features, and the sensual  curve of his mouth. Resisting his charms might take some doing and she'd  better take the resisting seriously since her heart was still in repair  mode from her one and only serious relationship. The last thing she  needed was to get it bruised or broken again by this man.

She resolved to keep her eyes focused out the window. The desert  landscape was hypnotically minimalist, with its subtle colors and bold  blue sky. The fog-shrouded mountains rose up ahead of them, and the  landscape changed dramatically as they drove up into the lush green  oasis of plant and bird life that made Salalah a tourist destination  during the annual rainy season. Right now it was June, dry and sunny, in  between the spring rains and the summer downpours that got underway in  July.

Quasar kept the conversation rolling with no apparent effort. They  chattered about the lifestyle differences between Oman and America, and  the bond deepened between them as they agreed that it was hard to move  from one country to the other without severe culture shock.

"So you haven't really lived in Oman at all."

"I haven't lived here permanently since my mom died. My dad packed Elan  and me off to boarding school overseas. I was young enough to adapt  easily. I never really looked back."

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